Men and women have an interesting relationship to shaving.
Both do it, some semi-regularly and some religiously. Yet others are using it as an opportunity to say something to the public.
No Shave November, or Movember as the Prostate Cancer Foundation has dubbed it, is becoming recognized by more people each year, thanks to its Internet-born pop culture status,
The initiated are told they can call themselves “Mo Bros.”
Through it, men’s health awareness is finding one more solid platform to raise attention.
Then last summer, a new Internet-born awareness campaign used growing hair as their speaking platform.
It’s difficult to say where it began, but suddenly thousands of women were using their social media accounts to post photos of their unshaven armpits, often dyed teal or pink, and using the hashtag #FreeYourPits.
Their message was simple — the disparity between society’s expectations for gender and sex, with the issue of body shaving as the hook.
The subject was covered by nearly every major news publication, so there was no denying the scale the movement reached.
Feminism entered a fourth wave sometime early this decade, and as generations before, the post-Internet generation is creating its own cultural idioms.
Modern feminists have evolved over the last decade, making use of this emerging culture to help novel ideas catch on.
Today there’s a chance for every voice to be heard, with microblogs and sub-culture movements weaving in and out of pop culture.
Personal image has always been a subversive platform for college-aged passionates, yet it arguably means more than ever because of society’s aggressive focus on personal looks.
Clothing isn’t just clothing, and hair isn’t just style—it’s representative of your beliefs. So when women began posting photos on social media sporting some healthy armpit hair, the buzz grew quickly.
“I personally wouldn’t do it just because that’s how I was raised—I was raised with, ‘Here’s a razor, you’re supposed to shave your legs and your armpits, and you know, just go with it’,” said MCCC student Taylor Messer.
“But I’m all for other people just being like, ‘Well, I’m going to grow it out, this is what I’m going to do, I feel beautiful regardless,’ …and I wish I had that confidence.”
There is a widely regarded taboo against this practice. It’s rooted in a 100- year-old advertising campaign used to sell shaving products, a campaign that has been so successful that it was artificially adopted as Western culture.
MCCC professor and librarian Dr. Terri Kovach said the general ideas that we see being marketed to us are, as many things are, placed between money and sex—from clothing and shaving product advertisements to pop icons.
“It’s that do you please, do you not please,” she said.
Messer said people make it unsightly for women to even be seen with body hair, citing women’s razor commercials that show legs that are already hairless.
“They won’t show that on TV because ‘it’s gross to have hair’,” she said.
Messer said it’s also asking women to take time out of their day to shave.
See Social media, Page 2
“Sometimes I forget to pluck my eyebrows, sometimes I forget to shave my armpits—sometimes I just don’t feel like wearing mascara. I’m still okay with the way I look,” she said.
The fact that men don’t have these duties is frustrating to her.
“It’s weird that girls are expected to wear makeup, wear tight clothes and shave their body hairless except for the really long hair on their head,” she said. “Guys are just like, ‘Okay, well I hopped out of bed today, and I maybe put on a tee shirt.’
“It sucks that girls feel pressured, like they can’t be beautiful if they don’t shave their armpits,” she said.
Messer told a story she heard that resonated with her. A women was approached by a man who told her she would be really beautiful if she just shaved her legs. Her response was posting glamour photos of her with her unshaven legs to her Facebook, saying, “Am I not beautiful?”
“If you have to go back 20 years when you were first handed a razor and you were told to shave your legs and you have to sit there and think about it, and you didn’t want to do that then, then don’t,” Messer said. “Do what you want to do. You don’t have to live your life for men and other women,”
To the women who look down on other women who don’t shave, Messer said
“Get over yourself.”
And to the men who don’t know how to feel about it,
“You don’t shave your pits, you don’t shave your legs.”
The power struggle between men and women bothers MCCC student Phoenix Vaive.
“People aren’t allowed to be opposed to things like shaving. I think that’s interesting,” Vaive said.
“It’s like men kind of adopt the standard for women. Not that they shave their legs, but that they think women are beautiful only if they do shave their legs. And that’s kind of weird.”
Vaive thinks that we focus too much on appearance as a whole, without considering the person behind our looks.
“Invest yourself into figuring out who you are—not what you are and what you have on your body. Just be yourself.”
Women who have to remove hair on their face for fear of being looked at for it is yet another issue of these expectations.
“That’s unfair if they’re judged for what they’re born with. That’s like flat-out segregation,” Vaive said.
Messer explained that some blonde-haired girls like herself may have hair on their face that’s just not visible. For girls who have darker hair, they may have to remove or bleach those same hairs on their face.
“And it’s like… why? It’s you,” Messer said.
Dr. Kovach said that many women have heavy facial hair.
The pressure women face comes down to social sanctions—informal sanctions against doing what is not considered normal. We see these in action every day, from the way people treat others based on their personal appearance alone to behaviors like smoking, she said.
These sanctions against what’s not normative have different degrees.
“A woman who chooses not to shave her facial hair that she’s had since she was 14 and she’s just tired of it now gets brutalized somewhere, minorly harassed, stared at, all of that… or eventually may in fact get cornered in a hallway at their high school,” she said.
Human beings have a history of trying to control what they feel they don’t understand.
Dr. Kovach sees this divide between men and women as a fallacy, because there is no real mystery to womanhood. At the same time, she finds it interesting how men have begun to shave their body hair, as well as go tanning. The idealized male figure will always exist, but he’s changing.
“It was John Wayne, then it was the Marlboro Man… I’m not sure who it is anymore,” she said.
“I don’t understand what changed so much… it wasn’t that long ago that people weren’t shaving. It hasn’t been around that long where you have to get rid of all of your body hair, all the time,” Messer said.
Trends live and die on page views alone, and Internet traffic does not ultimately decide when we have authentic cultural moments. Companies and media conglomerates piggyback the most popular trends to advertise on.
But #FreeYourPits wasn’t about popularity or acceptance. Women took a stance for something that they may have even lost friends over. Yet they gained respect from the thousands that stood with them.
The Internet is not about defending a comfortable status quo for everyone. It’s about the underdogs who haven’t had their say.
The true marvel of social media is idea sharing, ideas that can strike a chord with countless many. The fascinating result is real time observance of genuine cultural movements.
Some of these shifters-and-movers might return to shaving when their friends stop sharing photos of their color-dyed pits. But for the rest, the motivating message may very well stick.
“I feel pretty good when I shave. So, I like shaving my legs, but sometimes I forget and I don’t want people to be grossed out about it,” Messer said. “And other people don’t want to shave and that’s fine and people shouldn’t be grossed out by that either—because it’s just hair.”